Synthetic Cannabis – not in any way a cannabis product – is a man-made psychoactive substance created to mimic the effects of cannabis in humans. It contains synthetic cannabinoids which are man-made chemical compounds that interact with the Cannabis Receptor 1 (CB1) and Cannabis Receptor 2 (CB2), much like natural cannabis chemicals such as THC would.
When bound to the receptors, these cannabinoids mimic the effects of natural cannabinoids, invoking the sensation known to cannabis consumers as the ‘high’.
Synthetic cannabis is part of a group of drugs called New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) – drugs which aren’t regulated or supervised, but produce the same mind altering effects as illegal substances. Synthetic cannabis, however, is not just one drug but hundreds of unnaturally synthesised chemical compounds which imitate natural cannabinoids.
These substances are usually marketed as a herbal smoking blend or a ‘legal and safe’ alternative to natural cannabis but nothing could be further from the truth. Synthetic cannabis strains often contain illegal substances and are, in fact, known to be very dangerous to those who consume them. It is quite common to hear of frequent overdose cases where these substances are concerned.
Some examples of synthetic cannabis strains are:
Synthetic Cannabis. Source
A history in synthesis
The blueprint for many of today’s synthetic cannabis manufacturers to create the chemical compounds was first fabricated by John William Huffman in the 1980’s. Huffman, a Harvard University graduate, began to study cannabinoids and the way they bound to the cannabis receptors in humans in the mid 1980’s. Compounds which he created exhibited similar characteristics to natural cannabinoids when introduced to the endocannabinoid system.
In 1993, following the success of a synthesized cannabinoidnamed JWH-018, Huffman published a series of papers, journals, and a book called ‘The Cannabinoid Receptors’, all containing the formula to this compound. His research was initially intended to shed light on cannabinoid mechanisms, but instead took a dark turn in 2008 when JWH-018 was discovered in a forensic lab in Germany, leading to today’s synthetic cannabis use.
How it’s made
Synthetic cannabis is created by fusing dried plant material and aromatic herbs of various colours with synthetic cannabinoids. When the plant material and aromatic herbs are properly mixed, they are dipped in, or sprayed with, synthetic cannabinoids and then packaged for sale. Plants/herbs the colours of natural marijuana strains are usually favoured when picking a mix of herbs to synthesize.
For consumers who don’t want to smoke, synthetic cannabinoids can be mixed into liquids or oils and ingested with herbal teas or food.
Variants of synthetic cannabis. Source
Effects of synthetic cannabis
Synthetic cannabis is known to have similar effects on users to that of marijuana. Some of these effects include:
- Mood alteration; and
While these effects are similar to the effects of THC on the human body, synthetic cannabinoids can be more potent than THC when binding to the cannabinoid receptors. These cannabinoids hit the cannabinoid receptors more potently than natural cannabinoids causing mind-altering and often uncomfortable effects. Some of these adverse effects include:
- Increase in heart rate;
- Chest pain;
- Anxiety, paranoia, and agitation;
- Severe psychosis;
- Dizziness and sleepiness; and
Is Synthetic Cannabis worth the Risk?
Synthetic cannabis is prevalent in societies where cannabis is illegal. In these societies, cannabis consumers are looking for a similar experience without the hassle of illicit dealings. To a large extent, synthetic cannabis meets this need. However, the adverse effects of synthetic cannabis are just too many when lined up against the good.
The most notable risk where synthetic cannabis is concerned starts with its manufacturing point. In most cases, synthetic cannabinoids are not manufactured in high quality conditions. Many manufacturers are more interested in turning a quick profit, as opposed to ensuring their products are vetted for human safety.
With the incessant criminalisation of particular synthetic cannabinoids, manufacturers continue to put out newer and more potentially dangerous versions of the compound, throuwing more and more caution to the wind with each derivative.
The potency of the cannabinoids in synthetic cannabis makes overdosing on the substance an easy task. With cannabinoids hitting receptors with a greater intensity that THC, there is no telling the depth of effects an individual would experience. Synthetic cannabinoids have been recorded to cause all manner of horrors including suicide in users.
In Brooklyn, New York, 33 individuals were hospitalised after a suspected overdose on a synthetic cannabis product called K2. Their behaviour was recorded to range from erratic to zombie-like.
Further, a man from Shelton, Washington, reportedly went into a three-day coma after smoking synthetic cannabinoids. In fact, the problem has hit close to home, with Christchurch having a lot of recent problems with deaths related to synthetic cannabis use. There are many more horrific stories linked to the use and abuse of synthetic cannabis.
Though they offer a similar experience to authentic cannabis, they are too unstable, volatile and should not be put into the human system under any circumstance.
Synthetic cannabis is not cannabis. Using these substances comes with a number of risks, including high likelihoods of overdosing. Its side effects are alien to marijuana use, and they lack the medicinal properties of the cannabis plant. The illegality of cannabis has been a cause for the search for alternative substances, synthetic cannabis being one of them. However, using synthetic substances isn’t advisable - the risks are simply too high.